Spotlights

Face of the Week: Hailey Fink of Perry Hall High School

Team BCPS is made up of thousands of accomplished and interesting students, employees, and community supporters. “Face of the Week” introduces you to some of the people who make BCPS such an amazing mosaic of talent, caring, and commitment.
11/27/2017

Hailey Fink of Perry Hall High School

Benjamin Franklin, meet Hailey Fink.

The daughter of a software engineer dad and a graphic designer mom, the Perry Hall High School senior says she’s “the perfect mutt, because I love art and I love engineering.” To that end, Hailey has spent much of her 17 years learning all she can about fusing form and function, blending both the aesthetic and the mechanical into an academic career marked by innovation and invention.

Two summers ago, for instance, she interned with ClearEdge IT to design a custom computer that could be compatible with the popular HTC Vive virtual reality headsets. More recently, she took second place at a Perry Hall High art show by creating a fanciful, vaguely steampunk hot air balloon made of an “assemblage” of materials, including scores of tiny clock gears incorporated into the balloon’s basket.

“It took me at least 20 minutes just to layer those clock gears, and I doubt anyone knew they were there,” she says. “But I knew they were there. I am a sucker for details, and that’s how I can tell if I’m passionate about something. Passion is how much you pay attention to the details.”       

At Perry Hall High, her interest in engineering has informed a determination to involve more women into the traditional – and traditionally male –  STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Not content to be the sole woman on the school’s award-winning electric car team, for instance, she convinced Principal Andrew Last to support a second electric car club comprised only of women. And last year, she created the school’s first Society for Women Engineers club, the first and only such chapter in Baltimore County schools.

Even her down time involves art and engineering. For fun, lately, she’s been playing with a new toy – a “3-D pen” that uses plastic ink to let users draw in three dimensions. She recently designed and drew a plastic holding cage to contain her pet lizard, Terri, when she cleans out its terrarium.    

So it makes sense that Ben Franklin, who himself dabbled considerably in the worlds of fine arts and machines, is Hailey’s inspiration. “He’s my muse in all this,” she says. “He created amazing things, like bifocals and the rocking chair. He was an inventor, which is what I call myself. I have wanted to do jobs that count as both inventing and art, and the closest thing to that for me is engineering.”    

Her father, Glenn Fink, understands. “She’s very artistic and creative . . . taking (both) digital arts and theater arts. She designed the playbill for the (school) play last week,” Fink says. And yes, he adds, his daughter is an aficionado of Ben Franklin.

“She’s wanted to be an inventor forever.”

An engineer evolves

That forever began early. Hailey’s father remembers her introduction to STEM disciplines when she was in Girl Scouts. Then, her Brownie troop entered and excelled at FIRST LEGO League competition, which challenges children to research real-world problems relating to issues such as recycling and energy and then to develop solutions.

In elementary and middle school, Hailey also discovered the Society of Women Engineers. She engaged in Montessori instruction that emphasized hands-on, arts and crafts learning. By seventh grade, her thoughts had crystallized; she would pursue a career in some facet of engineering.  

Arriving at Perry Hall High, Hailey found teachers who supported her twin interests in art and engineering, and she says they gave her space enough to “try something new” in the school, “something that hadn’t been here before.”

Hailey’s father says engineering became a natural fit for his daughter. “She learns best when she’s doing things,” he says. “She loved her CTE classes, which is one reason she started the SWE club. She wanted to work on real-world problems.”

The school’s electric car club caught her interest first. With an aim toward competing in the annual Electric Vehicle Grand Prix at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., the all-male club spent hours constructing and fine-tuning its electric car, and Hailey was intrigued.

Sponsored by Global EEE, the Electric Vehicle Grand Prix is a hands-on educational program for high school students in the mid-Atlantic. Teams construct and race single-person, high-efficiency, battery-powered three-wheeled vehicles using engineering, science, and math principles and strategy. Cars that complete the most course laps at RFK before running out of energy are declared champions.

Hailey fit right in, eventually piloting the school’s entry, which went on to win a state championship among schools fielding electric vehicles in the competition.

The experience left her wanting more – but something different. In 2016, she asked Principal Last to help fund the startup of a female electric vehicle team, which meant paying for a second $4,500 car kit for her team to build. Last agreed, and Hailey spent hours recruiting team members, securing sponsors, marketing her team, and planning and running the meetings. With donations from ClearEdge, Brain Trust, and others, she was able to return Last’s investment in the club and have money left over to compete in this year’s Grand Prix in Washington.

Engineering for everyone

Hailey wasn’t done, though. In her junior year, with the support of several Perry Hall teachers, she again convinced the school to let her try to start Perry Hall’s first SWE chapter. Last and his staff agreed, but Hailey’s efforts to recruit interested students didn’t go well, at first. Setting up a table for her new women’s engineering club last year at Perry Hall’s club day, Hailey remembers getting few takers.

“The girls would say, ‘Oh, I’m just not that into math and science’ or ‘Isn’t that more for boys?’ or ‘I’m too girly-girl for that’,” she says. “I grabbed a few of them, though, and we were able to start. But I still haven’t found out exactly why it’s so hard to get girls to be interested.”

Those who committed to the club, however, shared Hailey’s enthusiasm. “When she got the club together, the girls really liked the cutting, grinding, and building,” Glenn Fink says. This year, group numbers are small, but their will is considerable. Led by Hailey, the chapter this year convinced national organizers of the Rube Goldberg Competition to have a women’s division competition – something that had been cancelled the past three years due to a lack of interest. The competition – for which Perry Hall’s SWE chapter is preparing – will be held January 20 at Howard High School in Ellicott City.

“I really want this (club) to be a thing at Perry Hall,” she says.

Michael Grubbs, coordinator of Career and Technology Education for BCPS, met Hailey last year and remembers being impressed by her “intrinsic motivation” to start the SWE and compete in the electric car challenge. The pair eventually collaborated on presentations before the Project Lead The Way Program Advisory Council, in which she has advocated more STEM outreach to female students.

“She personifies the word leader, through her vision, determination, creativity, and problem solving skills,” Grubbs says. “Even (with) last minute requests, she quickly fulfills (them) and showcases her work ethic and motivation to succeed.”  

Hailey remains convinced of her goal, too. “Ladies bring something different to the (engineering) table,” she says. For example, women engineers seem more likely to read the directions to a project rather than men, she says, who often seem more likely simply to dive into a project and wing it.

 “(Women) have a totally different feel for it, a different way of problem-solving and looking at things,” she adds. ”I want them to know they can do it.”

Looking forward

This year, Hailey remains wholly unacquainted with senioritis. She’s in the midst of applying to 17 colleges and universities, including Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute – her top pick – and the University of Maryland among others.

She also maintains an impressive volunteer life, winning the Silver Presidential Volunteer Service Award recently for her work volunteering with the Gunpowder Trail Conservancy, the Catie Carnes Foundation 5K fundraiser, and the Marshy Point Nature Center. She also has received a variety of awards during her tenure at Perry Hall High, from the Rensselaer Medal and top prize from the St. Joseph Science Fair to the Innovation & Creativity Award from the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Principal Last is among her biggest fans; he and Hailey used to compare chess moves with one another when she was a freshman. “She is a hardworking role model and driven young lady with a passion for engineering, who is not afraid to commit and work toward her goals,” Last says. “She has already demonstrated commitment to the science and the engineering fields. She has maintained an interest in developing her creativity along with her interest in societal issues. Hailey is a natural leader who will work and encourage others to work with her.”

As for the future, Hailey’s ideal job for now would be as a toy designer, perhaps for a company like Fisher Price. She admires the clean lines and elegant design of their learning-oriented playthings. “I’ve thought that (being a toy designer) would be the most basic way to design,” she says.

So as she approaches graduation next semester, the question is asked: What would Benjamin Franklin, her muse, think of her? It’s something she has to think about a moment.

“I would hope he’d be impressed with what I’ve done,” she says, “though I think he’d also be pretty skeptical of all the things he’d see today. . . . Mostly I think he’d be freaking out at all the inventions we get to use these days.”

“I think,” she adds, “I think he’s the type to look forward to change.”

Do you know of a special person who would be a good candidate for the BCPS “Face of the Week”? Let us know! Send their name, contact information, and what makes them special to cherndon@bcps.org.  

For more photos, visit the album at the BCPS Flickr page.

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